Friday, September 16, 2005

Zurich

I arrived to Zurich on Sep 2nd and moved into a hostel for the first week. Zurich is a beautiful city, and its looks are comparable to other European places I’ve visited, meaning it is ultra clean, has a river running through it, and lots of alleys lined with old cobblestones paths. It also had modern elements: excellent public transportation systems, streets lined with the finest high-performance cars (BMWs, Acuras, and Mercedes are plentiful.) And since Zurich is one of Europe’s banking capitals, the city exudes wealth and accordingly is very expensive. Much of the population is uber-stylish, which continues to make me feel out of place, as I was unfortunately unable to pack my Gucci sunglasses. However, for some reason my first day here I was mistaken twice for a Swiss German, when two sets of people attempted to talk to me on the streets—must have been my German heritage poking through.

After settling in I got in touch with my contact here who advised me to wait until Sep 10th—the day which the Tibetan exile community would be celebrating its constitution and democracy—at which point I could get started with my project. However, I was able to attend one Tibetan function my third day here. My contact Lobsang, took me to a University museum that happened to have a Tibetan exhibit going on. There was an exhibition on all 14 Dalai Lamas. Afterwards we heard some traditional music performed by a Tibetan from California. The night ended with another Tibetan performing American rock music, most notably songs by Cream and Jimi Hendrix. I guess Tibetans rockers are not limited to Toronto.

In the meantime from Sep 4-10 I bought a Swiss rail pass and spent the time visiting a new part of Switzerland each day. In that time I saw the highest waterfalls in Europe (which compared to those I had seen at Niagara a few weeks earlier were small, yet still powerful); visited the Matterhorn and surrounding mountains in Zermat (though unfortunately the day I went to the Matterhorn the mountain was covered in clouds); went to Lucerne to see medieval bridges, walls, and a Picasso museum; and visited the incredibly beautiful city of Montreux, which is situated on lake Geneva and surrounded by spectacular mountains and an incredibly fascinating medieval castle.

On the 10th I moved out of the hostel and into a small Tibetan monastery about an hour from Zurich. On the same day I went to a Tibetan community gathering (celebrating Tibet’s exile constitution and democracy), a daylong even with many speeches and performances. In all it was interesting, though at times difficult as virtually all the speeches were in Tibetan or Swiss-German. The reason for the German is because most Tibetans in Switzerland were born here. In the early 60’s Switzerland agreed to grant asylum to a handful of Tibetans who have since multiplied into successive generations of a current population of around 3,000. Therefore most Tibetans here speak Tibetan, German, some Italian and French, and English (some, to my surprise, with a German accent). The 9 monks in the monastery, however, only speak Tibetan and/or English, as most have come here from India.
I decided to live in the monastery for a few days in the hopes of being able to participate in monastic life so as to better understand it. However, it has been difficult to get very involved because most of monk life is individual. The monks get up at 7 for an hour of morning prayer, followed by breakfast at 8am, lunch at 12, and dinner at 7. In between meals, each monk has his own schedule. Most of them spend the days quietly located in their rooms doing solo meditation, reading, or reflection. Some give teachings to the public (which unfortunately I can participate in because they are in Tibetan and German); others visit local families when needed i.e. if someone dies. Mostly, it is a quiet and simple life. Because I cannot exactly participate in the life, I have been enjoying the quite and have spent my time reading, resting, and taking walks.
I am off to Sweden for a week to visit Anna, after which I will return to Zurich to finish up my time in Switzerland. So for now, that is my report. Not too sure how the last two weeks in Switzerland will unfold, but I will update you. Below I have posted some photos from my travels around the country and a few from the monastery…


A shot of the river in Zurich

Typical street in Zurich


View of Lucern from atop the old wall

The highest waterfall in Europe

Another shot of Lucern, this one of the river

Montreux and its famous castel


A few shots of the Tibetan Monastery in Rikon


A couple shots of the matterhorn (well covered in clouds)